17 oz Down Quilt
by Jeremy Padgett
This is my first Homemade Gear, and it is probably not the easiest project
to have started on. However, I am very pleased with the outcome and have
so chosen to share it, and the process, with the general public in order
to promote and inspire the making of homemade gear. Here I'll explain what
you'll need, in materials and knowledge, and how to make it.
To better acquaint myself with the art of sewing, I made several
prototypes before beginning on the final draft. I made these with
$1.00/yard fabric and sewed away. It doesn't matter how many mistakes you
make when money's not a factor. However, when it's time for the real deal,
and your Benjamin is floating on the line, mistakes suddenly become quite
dramatic. I did not produce a pattern, only measurements that I modified
throughout the entire process. Nor will I produce a pattern to be used on
this website. I do this to serve no other purpose than encouragement for
total customization. For your own comparative purposes, know that I am 5'
10" and 145pounds.
I learned a few small, but helpful, tricks along the way, don't worry,
they're all included to make this as pain-free as possible.
Before I even begin this, however, I must discuss why a quilt is far
better, under most circumstances, than it's equivalent sleeping bag.
Insulation works in one of two ways: either by dead air space (loft) or by
reflection (radiation). A mixture of these two types of insulations should
be avoided especially when working with down in order to maintain maximum
loft and vapor transfer. The first type of insulation, dead air space, is
what is used in sleeping bags and in most insulation found today here on
Earth. They work on the principle of tiny particles trapping heat produced
by a [body] and keeping them warm by discouraging convection. If
convection takes place, warmth will be lost. Therefore, the
particles/fibers that fill the space must be so fine so as to hinder
convection altogether. Using this, we can now say that the thicker the
particles trapping air (loft) the greater the warmth that it provides
(i.e. it has to be fluffy to work). If one lies on the bottom part of his
sleeping bag, all of the insulation under the body is crushed and is
therefore no longer useful insulation (It should be said at this point
that heat rises). So why have crushed insulation on the bottom? You
already sleep on some sort of pad (it's main purpose is insulation, not
comfort); use it instead of dragging along the extra "dead"
insulation on the under part of your sleeping bag. This is why a quilt
will keep you warm, yet weighs half as much as its equivalent bag, and
compresses twice as much.
The Ins and Outs of Working With Down
Be sure to order 10% more down than you'll
need due to its tendency to disappear. To discern how much down you will
need, you first need to know the temperature that you want the quilt to be
warm to. Using prominent industry standards, the following chart shows
equivalent loft-warmth ratios. I have converted them to be relevant with
making a quilt.
Comfort Rating in
Height in inches
After determining the
temperature, and hence loft, that you'll need, use the formula Length x
Width x Height = Approximate Volume (cubic Inches). Divide the Approximate
Volume by the fill power of down (i.e. 550, 650, 775, 800, 830) to
determine how many ounces of down you will need. Make sure to add 10% to
that number to have a margin of loss when working with the down.
Example: The average dimensions of my quilt are as follows: 72-inch
length, 45-inch width, and 2.5-inch height. Multiplying them together, we
arrive at 8100 cubic inches. I know from talking with Feathered Friends
that the down that I will be ordering is 800+ fill power, meaning that one
ounce will take up at LEAST 800 cubic inches. Divide 8100 ci by 800+ fill
power to get 10.12 ounces of down. Multiply the answer by 1.1 to achieve a
safe margin of loss. In my scenario, I ordered 11 ounces of 800+ fill
The weight and quantity of down that you need will vary greatly depending
upon quality of down.
Because down is a loose insulation, precautions must be taken to ensure
insulation it covers you at all times. A simple way to do this is by
making a sewn-through bag. This is done by simply sewing the top and
bottom pieces together in strips every 7-8 inches creating pockets to put
the down into. This method creates "cold spots" easily, however,
and should only be used to make bags who's temperature range is 30* or
higher (i.e. 40*F) Another way to keep the down is by sewing strips of
fabric to the top and bottom pieces of fabric to allow a certain loft.
This method is known as baffled construction. A baffled bag is much better
a preventing cold spots when adequate loft is accounted for. This is the
method I used for making my quilt. The baffles are best made out of
No-See-um mesh netting.
Other Considerations when choosing supplies and materials
I suggest making the quilt out of two separate colors: a light color on
top, and a dark color on bottom. This not only enhances looks, but
performance as well. A light color will absorb less heat and therefore
will loose less through heat radiation. Thus, it will hold more heat in
the bag when used on top. A darker color can be used on the bottom to
speed up dry out time in the backcountry. Also, when the user wishes to
not be seen as easily, the darker color can serve as camouflage in the
night. The breatheability of a fabric is also vital. The human body emits
nearly a pint of moisture every night during sleep. A fabric that is not
breathable will trap this moisture, encouraging mildew and loss of loft.
It is important to air out a sleeping bag every morning, in any case, to
ensure complete dryness. A fabric that is too breathable, however, will
let too much heat escape right through the individual threads and will
hinder the bags performance. Use a lightweight down-proof breathable
rip-stop nylon. A Durable Water Repellant (DWR) finish will make a limited
amount of moisture (from the outside) bead up and roll off of the quilt,
rather than soaking in.
Note: It is important to keep in mind that I'm a little guy at 5'10" and 140lbs. I suggest buying some inexpensive fabric to figure out your dimensions beforehand.
Threads and Needles
The color of thread is totally up to you; however, make sure it is 100%
Polyester thread. No cotton core stuff, it MUST BE 100% Polyester. Cotton
thread, even cotton core, will rot fast in the field, leaving you, again,
with a pile of materials and no sewing machine to put them back together.
Use the smallest needle that you can find, the smaller the needle holes,
the more difficult it will be for down to escape. I used a size 9 needle.
What I Used
5 yards of 1.1oz NON-coated Rip-Stop Nylon (Sky blue, black)
2 yards of Slate colored No-See-Um mesh netting (different color than
shell fabric makes it easier to see)
11oz of 800+fill Feathered Friends Down
100% Polyester Thread
What's the Plan?
you'll need to cut:
two identical pieces for to shell. Make one out of the lighter
color (for the top) and the other out of the dark material.
The picture in the steps below illustrate the dimensions of my quilt,
you may need more or less in some areas. You'll also need to
cut 6-inch strips to use as your baffles.
to add two inches on each side for seam allowance!
get to step 5, you'll also want to measure and cut two pieces
of fabric for use as a footbox. They will measure about 14"x
9"x 10"x 9" all the way around, but you won't
know the dimensions exactly until you get there.
After you get to step 5, you'll also want to measure and cut two pieces of fabric for use as a footbox. They will measure about 14"x 9"x 10"x 9" all the way around, but you won't know the dimensions exactly until you get there.
Before You Start:
It will help if you complete steps one - four the night before you begin.
Still allow two more days of sewing.
Unless you are a tailor, your bag will NOT be perfect. Such is the reality
of making one's own gear. As long as it works, it is beautiful in my eyes
and, I'm sure, in yours.
Set your Sewing Machine to 8-10 stitches per inch
Use Scotch Tape to make all marks on the fabric. This will eliminate
marking the fabric with markers and/or chalk. Scotch tape peels off as you
How to Make Your Own Down Quilt
||Step One: Spread out
the fabric on a spacious floor. Measure and mark your dimensions.
Cut out the pattern. Using Scotch Tape (instead of marking the
fabric with a marker) "mark" your baffles onto the
fabric. Scotch Tape peels of easily but do not sew ON it, sew
above or below it. Baffles should be 5-7 inches apart (mine are 7)
starting from the foot.
Step Two: Spread out the other
piece of fabric on the floor and lay your pattern (baffle marks
down) on it. Tape if necessary. Cut out the pattern on the second
piece of fabric. Using the First piece as a model, mark the new
piece with scotch tape indicating where the baffles are to be
placed. Finish Marking the Second piece after removing the first
From Hereon out, the first piece will be referred to the top, and
the second as the bottom.
||Step Three: Cut the
No-See-Um netting into strips. These will be your baffles. Make
them one inch taller than you need them. You will tuck them under
to form a stronger bond when sewing. Using the guides that you
have made from Scotch tape, sew the strips of netting onto the top
fabric, remembering to peel off tape after EACH baffle (otherwise
it will be impossible to take it out).
||Step Four: Sew the
Baffles, which are now connected to the top, to the bottom piece.
Again, peel of the tape as you finish EACH baffle.
||Step Five: Measure the
foot width of the fabric. Make, mark, and cut your foot box piece
accordingly. Sew a baffle onto the inside of the outside foot box
piece. Sew the outside foot box piece onto the foot of the bag
inside out as to hide the stitching. Also sew the bottom ridgeline
up to the knees in the same fashion.
||Step Six: Turn the bag
wrong side out. Sew the inside foot box piece to the foot box
baffle. Sew the inside foot box piece to the foot of the bag 3/4
of the way around. Leave the rest until you stuff.
||Step Seven: Sew up one
side of the bag, leaving one open to stuff. You are now ready for
the "Quarantine" part of making a down bag.
||Step Eight: find a place your house where there is NO breeze but plenty of
light. Vacuum it. Set up your Sewing Machine inside. Take in with
you the following: your quilt, seam-rippers and scissors, scotch
tape, down. Keep the vacuum cleaner close by waiting for cleanup. DO NOT TAKE ANYTHING IN THAT YOU
DON'T WANT COVERED IN DOWN. Thinking through your final steps and
mumbling your final prayers (this is where the morbid organ music
begins) go through what you about to do.
||Step Nine: Close ALL
doors and windows. Stuff the foot box and sew it up. Stuff the
remaining compartments and TAPE them as you go. This will allow
you to redistribute down amongst the compartments if you have put
too much or not enough in a certain compartment.
||Step Ten: After you
are satisfied, begin sewing the baffles closed. I began at the
top, working my way down. It worked for me. After reaching the
bottom ridge at the knees, switch to the other end and work your
way back. Try it out inside the tent. Go back and double stitch
around the outer seams and around the inside foot box. Vacuum the
remaining down off of the tent and yourself. Then vacuum the tent
and yourself again. Do it again, and again, and again.
|Thru-Hiker tested weight: 17 oz
Material: 1.1 oz uncoated ripstop nylon, 800 fill power down
Hungry Howie's reported temperature rating: 20 degrees